First RAF drone flight using a synthetic fuel

Synthetic kerosene is made from raw materials with high sugar levels, such as food waste, and so is completely fossil fuel-free. These waste materials are mixed with bacteria to produce an oil-like substance that can be converted into fuel for aeroplanes using chemicals and heat.

Fuels such as this could be a way to bridge the gap between petrochemical derived fuels and cleaner energy sources. In industries such as aviation and shipping, where electrically powered vessels are currently impractical, advanced synthetic fuels offer a more sustainable alternative.

While not yet developed at an industrial scale, the team behind this advancement, which included colleagues from the Chemistry Department at The University of Manchester, were able to produce 15 litres of synthetic kerosene, enough to power a 4-meter drone for 20 minutes. Additionally, the process does not require any large-scale infrastructure and so can be made anywhere. This makes it an appealing prospect for companies and other stakeholders, including the RAF, as it could be rolled out across supply chains around the world.

Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the UK Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub

This RAF drone flight is an early demonstration of the potential suitability of synthetic kerosene as a high-performance synthetic fuel. These are early and important steps in defining routes to net zero high performance fuels and the drone flight is therefore an important milestone on this journey

Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the UK Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub

With net zero and carbon emissions targets at the top of the global agenda, synthetic fuels will have a key part to play in countries achieving these goals. The RAF recently committed to finding more sustainable alternatives to fossil-derived aviation fuels, and with support from companies like C3 BIOTECH, they are one step closer to this. Eventually, similar fuel technologies will be available for commercial, as well as military applications which will further help to reduce the world’s carbon emissions.

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